Last week, the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) participated in a forum in Bristol, R.I., hosted by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), along with the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association (RIMTA), the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association, and the Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Service. The purpose of the forum was to identify opportunities to support the growing Rhode Island composites industry. U.S. Representative David Cicilline (D-R.I.), as well as representatives from Rhode Island’s composites companies, research institutions, and other stakeholders all took part in the discussion to explore ways in which Rhode Island composites companies and researchers can expand their operations to serve growing demand for composites in other areas of the economy, like the military, transportation, and consumer goods.

Whitehouse

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)

CM Interviews spoke with Senator Whitehouse after the forum to gain his perspective on the event and learn how the composites industry can better engage elected leaders to support initiatives. For more information about ACMA’s legislative efforts, visit http://www.acmanet.org/advocacy.

What makes Rhode Island unique as a composites industry hotspot?

There are a few things: First, Rhode Island’s composites companies are well positioned from our long and rich history in the marine trades. Second is the advanced research going on at places like the University of Rhode Island, Brown University, and the Rhode Island School of Design, which are finding ways to work with federal agencies and Rhode Island firms to design and test composites for innovative applications. Third, the proximity of Rhode Island’s composites companies in Bristol and Warren encourages collaboration. And finally, Rhode Island’s composites industry has the support of elected officials and advocates like the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association and the Rhode Island Manufacturing Association, who are working together to promote Rhode Island as a hub for composites innovation. It will be exciting to see the industry grow over the next few years.

What opportunities do you see for Rhode Island to build its composites industry?

I’ve visited composites companies that manufacture components for everything from wind turbines to body armor to spacecraft. The range of applications is endless. As these firms continue to innovate, opportunities to grow will crop up across the industry.

What is the role of an educated workforce in growing this industry? Are we equipped to meet that need?

Rhode Island graduates some of the best engineers and scientists in the country from our research and design institutions. But employers still tell me they would like to hire more Rhode Islanders, but can’t find qualified candidates. So we’re doing something about it. For example, the New England Institute of Technology, with support from the U.S. Department of Labor, has established a Shipbuilding/Marine Trades and Advanced Manufacturing Institute that will train out-of-work Rhode Islanders for skilled work at leading firms like General Dynamics Electric Boat. The International Yacht Restoration School offers the ACMA’s Composites Certification. We need to continue this type of investment in workforce development and technical education.